10 Sep From the Principal: Four Key Characteristics of Woodstock’s Identity
Charles Moore was a past Editor of the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London. He is just as likely to be remembered as the authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher! In an article almost 10 years ago he wrote these words:
“In two generations we have moved from a world in which parents put an almost absolute trust in schools and teachers to one in which trust is highly conditional. They believed that people who educated children, particularly if they educated them according to Christian principles, were good people who deserved the benefit of the doubt. And they also believed that institutions could not function successfully if they were, to use a modern coinage, ‘second guessed’ by the parents who used them.”
If two generations have seen such fundamental shifts in parental perceptions, they have also seen equally significant shifts in how schools see themselves. What, exactly, are schools and what, exactly ought they to be doing? These are important questions about identity and direction for much depends upon the answers we give to them.
In terms of identity, at a school like Woodstock, we are pastors and educators. We are not either one or the other. Nor are we first one and then the other. In our work with young people, we are involved in the formation of character and the development of mind. This is not the same as discipline and learning nor is it the same as getting children to do as they are told and helping them to pass exams. Every adult engaged in the lives of young people carries these twin responsibilities – all the time.
In terms of direction, I believe 4 key distinctions must be maintained as we move forward. We need to be characterised by:
Authority – rather than as Authoritarian
Authority (like leadership) means different things to different people. For some, authority is all about issuing commands and ordering people about. But there is another approach which has stood the test of time as a far more powerful instrument for change. The great spiritual traditions of the world have long recognised the power of encouragement, example and service to others. This is the type of authority which is valued at Woodstock. It is the kind of leadership that acts without great fuss and gives willingly of time and energy. In various ways, we all step in and out of roles which oscillate between leader and follower. Yes, there is a superficial authority of status and role but there is a more fundamental authority of personal presence, personal example and influence. This is the authority which creates change. As Gandhi once said, “Become the change you want to see.”
Democracy – rather than Democratic
A school cannot be democratic – at least not in the sense of ‘majority rule’ or ‘absolute consensus” (though there have been attempts at this for e.g. A.S Neill’s Summerhill). What we can do is encourage a democratic process of dialogue and consultation. We must be characterised by democracy – allowing voices to be heard and giving everyone – student and staff alike – a chance to speak. At the end of the day, though, someone (typically the Principal!) has to make the decisions after informed discussion and careful consultation. We now have a leadership structure consisting of three ‘Council’s which makes this goal easier to achieve.
Tradition – rather than Traditionalist
We need constantly to look back to the values and principles which have stood the test of time. For us, this is the Christian foundation upon which this school was originally founded. It is the tradition of the Gospels and the teaching of Christ. That is the only tradition I will respect here. By contrast, the traditionalist has an unquestioning allegiance to the past for its own sake and often on the basis of nostalgia and selective memory. Every memory and every piece of nostalgia has to bear the scrutiny of the school’s values and our emerging sense of a distinct educational philosophy.
An emphasis on Ends – rather than on Means
Our goal is the formation of character and the development of mind – these should be our focus. We have many means at our disposal to achieve these ends. These range from the classroom environment to the outdoors, music, sport, culture and drama. Let us not deify the means and confuse them with the ends. No ‘means’ should be sacrosanct in the achievement of our ‘ends.’ We should constantly review and assess the means we use to establish whether or not they still, truly, move us towards the ends so clearly set forth in our mission: to develop “visionary, articulate and ethical individuals equipped to achieve their full potential in leadership and in life”.
Retaining these characteristics will not be easy for there are many influences which will try hard to deter us. For example, we have to resist the intrusion of production-line terminology into education and the free use of managerial idiom and corporate-talk which is so common in schools today. These powerful and arid influences will destroy the fragile and delicate values at the heart of Woodstock’s vision for young people.
The qualities we will need are no different to those which have sustained strong communities down through time. These qualities are well summed up in the last words of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvadore, just before he was murdered on the steps of his cathedral:
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.